COVID-19 Series: How the Pandemic Impacts Talent Program Implementation

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues and talent leaders around the world respond to the constant uncertainty, many are partnering with RPO and technology providers. Meanwhile, hiring and technology needs are changing quickly and frequently, which necessitates a nimble partner who can scale quickly. However, the days of implementing new programs in the traditional ways are over. Specifically, there are no days-long, in-person kickoffs or hands-on, face-to-face trainings. Now, it’s all virtual.

At PeopleScout, Emily Gordon has risen to the challenge of building partnerships and implementing new talent programs without even a handshake. She has more than 21 years of experience in talent acquisition and has overseen sourcing, continual process improvement and client implementations. In particular, her expertise is in transitions, process improvement, team building, client relationship development and operational delivery.

We spoke with Emily from her home in Michigan about what implementation looks like right now.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic transformed the RPO implementation process?

The first and most obvious change is that it has moved everything to a 100% virtual process. That was a big shift for us. We depended on in-person meetings and non-verbal cues. Implementation has been a human-to-human process. We’ve been really pushed to leverage technology and use new tools. We’ve also added an emotional intelligence expert, who is helping our internal teams and our customers adapt. We’re interacting with stakeholders in different ways.

We’re using a lot of video and doing lots of checking in, but we’re also taking more breaks. In a traditional implementation, we’d have a big kickoff that would take place over multiple days. We’d meet in person and get the butterflies and nervousness and excitement out. That’s difficult to manage now; because of video fatigue, people have a hard time spending a full workday on camera in a video meeting. So, we break our kickoff into more manageable chunks.

That means that while implementations during the pandemic have moved faster than they did before, it feels like we’re moving slower over the first few days as we get started. Relationships take longer to grow over video calls than they do in person. At the same time, we save a lot of time because we don’t need to build in travel or work as hard to coordinate schedules. This speed is important right now because a lot of customers want to implement new solutions faster because they had to scale down so quickly due to COVID. Now, they’re needing to ramp back up just as quickly.

What does the process look like now?

We’ve boiled the process down to four steps, and we use the acronym NEXT. It stands for Needs analysis, Engage and evaluate, eXecute and Transform.

In our needs analysis, we meet internally with our business development team and solutions architects, and we meet externally with clients to really understand their needs. We define what success looks like in this partnership and ensure that all their needs are met.

Then, we move into engage and evaluate, where we bring in even more stakeholders, including our PeopleScout client delivery teams. We go through every step of the client’s current process and look for ways to optimise and bring in our expertise. We make sure there aren’t any missed opportunities to accelerate success.

Then, we’re in the execute phase, where we add in our technology teams. We start to test and bring our new processes into practice. We bring the full delivery team into place, complete trainings and get ready for go-live.

Finally, we move into transformation. When you think about an implementation, it is really just the beginning, right? Our philosophy at PeopleScout is that implementation is a process and not an event. When we get to that last phase, we’re really at the beginning of our relationship with a new way of working established for both organisations.

What are the best virtual partnership building strategies you’ve developed – especially when it comes to communication?

Video is so important. At first, I think people were shy about being on video all day, every day. We broke up meetings to make it work for everybody. We also use collaboration technology to update our notes and project management tracking in real time so clients can watch everything happen. Building transparent communication virtually is difficult, so this has been an important step.

We’ve also learned not to be afraid to say, “I think we need to try that again.” Sometimes, we need to have another call to dig into an issue a little bit more, or maybe the right stakeholders couldn’t make part of a call. Sometimes, we ask the same questions two or three times throughout the process to make sure everyone is still on the same page.

A lot of talent acquisition teams are running lean right now. What advice do you have for organizations that are implementing RPO with a small internal team?

That’s the best part about RPO, right? Whatever you’re trying to implement – whether you’re trying to expand scope or add technology – that’s what we’re made for. Just be honest about the team you have and the needs you have. If you don’t have access to subject matter experts, let us know and be flexible. Maybe you previously had a reporting analyst, but now you can only provide access so that our team can find the necessary data ourselves. That’s okay. That’s our job. Our job is to bring the solution to you and to support you. It can feel overwhelming to start a new relationship. It’s a lot of work. To get through it, we need to acknowledge that and talk about the support you need so we can help you get there.

A lot of organizations find themselves needing to quickly implement a new technology solution, especially around virtual interviewing. What advice do you have for the process?

I recommend starting by selecting a technology solution that can be flexible and ramp up and down quickly. A best-in-class technology solution includes integrations, but that adds time and complexity when a lot of talent acquisition leaders are looking for speed. We encourage people to be flexible. We’ll pilot a new solution in a certain way and then decide what integrations we need to do and where we can best spend our time and effort. You have to design the process around your immediate needs and then build it from there.

At PeopleScout, we use Affinix™, and that’s always my recommendation. When a client needs it, we can just turn on our virtual interviewing solution. I just did this with one of my clients, a healthcare organisation, where we had to get video interviewing up and running really quickly at the start of the pandemic. If you need that, we can do it.

Are there any final thoughts you’d like to leave us with?

Remember that change is always difficult. Having a good partner makes it better, but there will always be bumps in the road. Communicate. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Be vulnerable. Admit what’s working and what’s not. As an RPO provider, we are here as a consultant. Our job is to come forward with solutions to problems you might not even be able to articulate yet. So, be open. Implementation is hard, but it doesn’t need to be painful.

Post by Nicole Fuqua